SOU one of four schools looking to join Frontier

Southern Oregon is one of four schools that has applied for full or partial membership to the Frontier Conference and will need a unanimous vote in its favor Dec. 7 in Billings, Mont., in order to be accepted, conference commissioner Kent Paulson said.

Southern Oregon and two other schools, Menlo and Jamestown College, are seeking football-only membership, while Dickinson State has applied for full membership.

Currently, the Montana-based league has nine full members and six football-only members.

Southern Oregon's football and wrestling squads compete as NAIA independents, while the school's other seven intercollegiate programs compete as members of the Cascade Collegiate Conference, made up of schools from Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

While the SOU wrestling program has thrived as an independent, winning four national titles, the football team has mostly struggled since the Columbia Football Association disbanded following the 1998 season. The Raiders, who are currently looking for a new head football coach after Steve Helminiak was fired Nov. 15, qualified for the NAIA National Championships in '01 and '02, but have finished above .500 only twice since.

The football teams in the Frontier Conference — Carroll, Rocky Mountain, Eastern Oregon, Montana Tech, Montana-State Northern and Montana Western — currently play a double-round robin schedule, which would most likely change if more teams were added.

The question, according to Paulson, is finding a way to strengthen the conference without upsetting the balance. In football, that probably means adding at least two schools, since the addition of one eliminates the possibility of a double-round robin while also forcing members to fill holes in their schedules that weren't previously there.

"It's no good bringing in only one football school," Paulson said, "because that gets us to seven schools and, quite frankly, you have a worse situation than what we have right now because then "… you're looking at picking up four or five games, and that's just a nightmare. You're back to what SOU and Menlo are doing right now.

"So, we're primarily looking at the idea of bringing two, three or four schools in."

Thanks to its location, Dickinson State of Dickinson, N.D., appears to be the best fit of the four. DSU threw its hat in the ring after three schools from its current league, the Dakota Athletic Conference, announced that they would leave the conference next school year to become NCAA Division II members.

Geographically, Southern Oregon under normal circumstances would appear to be a long shot. But the Frontier Conference is taking a more aggressive approach than it has in years past as it looks to protect its position against future defections.

"We don't want to, in five years, be sitting in the other end of this with four or five schools like the DAC and wondering what our future is," Paulson said. "I would love to see Southern Oregon in our conference.

"There are creative ways you can go about this," Paulson added. "The town of Ashland, from the standpoint of collegiate athletics, you're not right in the central beltway — you are where you are for a reason in terms of football. But that doesn't mean that we can't figure something out."

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